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4 candidates eager to grab Celtics’ 6th man role this season 08.26.16 at 10:11 am ET
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Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart will look to fill Evan Turner’s role on the Celtics this season. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

One of the biggest questions the Celtics will have to answer at the start of the regular season is this: Who will emerge as the team’s sixth man?

 In a two-year span, Evan Turner (now with the Trail Blazers) flourished as the Celtics’ first option off the bench. He provided scoring and rebounding and was the team’s secondary ball handler. He averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season, and his production surely will be missed.

Turner finished fifth in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and made game-deciding plays, so there’s certainly a void left behind. However, the Celtics have more than a few options off the bench — guys who have the potential to perform on both ends of the floor at a high rate and are very much capable of becoming the team’s newest sixth man next season. 

Here are their best options.

1. Marcus Smart 

Smart is heading into his third NBA season, and expectations are at an all-time high for him. Last season he carved out a role for himself as the team’s second-best backcourt defender (behind Avery Bradley), while also showing flashes of scoring prowess. Most notably there was a 26-point performance against arguably the best point guard in the league — Thunder star Russell Westbrook — as Smart made 9-of-14 shots from the floor, including 3-of-5 from behind the arc, and led the C’s to a 100-85 win at Oklahoma City. 

An impressive showing for the young guard, but what’s often frustrating about Smart’s offense is his lack of consistency — something Westbrook (who finished with 27 points that night) reminded us about Smart after the loss:

“[Smart] had a good game. But there’s 82 games I do this,” Westbrook said.

The following night, Smart finished with four points in 30 minutes against the Rockets — a big drop-off from what was the best scoring night of his career.

Although Smart’s suffocating defense helped limit Westbrook to 25 percent shooting (5-of-20), in order for him to slide into the team’s sixth man role he’s going to have to find consistency on both ends of the floor. If he can build off Game 4 of April’s playoff series against the Hawks — another fantastic performance from Smart — there’s a strong chance that Stevens will see his backup guard reach new heights next season.

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Read More: Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier
Why a Ray Allen comeback isn’t best for Celtics 08.17.16 at 6:54 pm ET
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Jan 27, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during the first half at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Allen, 41, has reached out to the Bucks and Celtics about making a comeback (Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports)

Although it would be a sweet storybook ending to see the NBA’s greatest 3-point shooter donning a green and white uniform one final time, I’m afraid there’s no room for a Ray Allen comeback in Boston.

For a young up-and-coming team that continues to steadily climb toward the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are a team that’s better off without Allen.  

Allen, 41, told the Hartford Courant he’s reached out to the Celtics and the Bucks about a comeback — a report that left me torn as I asked myself: Is seeing Ray Allen back in Boston best for the Celtics or best for Ray Allen?

Only five players have played in the NBA at the age of 41 — Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Dikembe Mutombo.  

Cousy, the only guard on the list, was pressed into service for seven games in an attempt to boost ticket sales while coaching the Cincinnati Royals in 1970, seven years after he retired from the Celtics. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 10 points in 22.9 minutes in his final season (1988-89), Mutumbo’s 1.2 blocks per game average for two seasons (2007-09) helped extend his career to the age of 42, and Parish scored 4.8 points in 16.7 minutes a night for the Hornets at age 41. Willis averaged 3.4 points in 7.8 minutes and eventually became the oldest player in NBA history when he retired at age 44 with the Bulls (2006-07).

If there’s anyone who could become the sixth 41-year-old and first guard to play valuable minutes for a club, it’d be Allen.

However, at this stage, this young team led by coach Brad Stevens still is predicated on developing young talent into impact players. This is the same place where Isaiah Thomas blossomed into an All-star, where Avery Bradley became an NBA All-Defensive first-team guard, where Evan Turner was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and where Jae Crowder arrived as a bench warmer from the Mavericks and transformed into one of the better small forwards in the Eastern Conference.

This isn’t the place for Allen to turn back the clock for one final hurrah.

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Read More: Ray Allen,
Can Terry Rozier build off last season’s playoff opportunity? 08.12.16 at 3:15 pm ET
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Apr 26, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) shoots the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Rozier has made his case for why he deserves an increased role for the Celtics next season (Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

The playoffs provided a glimpse of what could be for Terry Rozier and the Celtics. 

When Brad Stevens turned to the 16th overall pick of the 2015 draft in the April playoff series against the Hawks, the 6-foot-2 rookie did not disappoint.

After averaging only eight minutes in 39 regular season games, Rozier made his presence felt in his first NBA playoff series – averaging 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19.8 minutes.

He knocked down shots, did a stellar job on defense and most importantly, became the facilitator who Stevens could rely on for valuable minutes.

However, past performances won’t necessarily cement Rozier into the Celtics’ 2016-17 rotation. His opportunity in the playoffs was due in large part to Avery Bradley being unavailable after suffering a right hamstring injury in the Game 1 loss in Atlanta. But Rozier’s skill-set as a pure point guard will certainly increase his chances in becoming one of Stevens’ go-to options off the bench next season.

In a sixth man role, Evan Turner emerged as the team’s secondary facilitator for two years in Boston. As the secondary ball handler, Turner helped keep opposing teams at bay while the starters rested.

Now, with Turner in Portland, many expect Rozier to take on an increased role. He used the Celtics’ Summer League platform to prove why he’s ready to step up to the challenge. Rozier was the team’s MVP this summer – averaging 20 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

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Read More: Terry Rozier,
Ray Allen has contacted Celtics about a potential comeback 08.09.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Jan 27, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) warms up prior to a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Allen played five seasons (2007-2013) with the Celtics (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Former Celtics shooting star Ray Allen has been in contact with team officials about making a potential comeback in Boston.

In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Allen says he’s spoken with two of his former teams about making a possible return — the Celtics — where he won his first NBA championship — and the Bucks — the team that drafted him back in 1996.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen told the paper, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who was a member of the Celtics’ new ‘Big 3’ alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, helped lead the team to an NBA championship in 2008. He last played for the Celtics in 2012 before he turned down a two-year contract to stay in Boston and signed with the rival Miami Heat for less money — a move that some C’s fans deemed as unforgivable at the time.

Allen went on to win his second NBA title with the Heat in 2013 before losing to the Spurs in the finals the following year — which ended up being his last season in the NBA.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Ray Allen,
Celtics could use R.J. Hunter’s 3-point touch 08.04.16 at 9:04 am ET
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Dec 26, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talks to guard R.J. Hunter (28) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Hunter will be fighting for playing time from Celtics coach Brad Stevens. (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

Could 2016-17 be R.J. Hunter’s breakout season?

We’ve seen Hunter’s outside shot look very promising in exhibition and summer league games, but we’ve yet to see him put it together on a consistent level during the regular season.

The Celtics have been in dire need of a knockdown 3-point shooter since the departure four years ago of Ray Allen — a player who opponents constantly had to cover at the arc. Last season the Celtics finished with the third-worst 3-point shooting in the league (35 percent, better than only the Grizzlies and Lakers). Hunter’s outside touch certainly could help boost them into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, but he’s going to have to earn a spot in Brad Stevens’ rotation first.

Hunter, 22, played in 36 regular-season games last season, shooting 30 percent from behind the arc in only 8.8 minutes a night. In a crowded backcourt, it was hard for Stevens to find playing time for the rookie — who was behind Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner on the depth chart. But with Turner out of the picture (now playing for the Trail Blazers), his minutes will be up for grabs.

Hunter, coming off being a star in college at Georgia State, said last season’s transition to the pro game matured him.

“I’ve always played, so I had to kind of see the game from another angle,” Hunter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have a better appreciation for team ball, for winning and for just being on the court. I remember at the end I just wanted to be on the court to be a part of a win. It was humbling.”

In the playoffs, Stevens turned to Hunter for offense after losing Bradley (hamstring) at the end of Game 1 — and eventually the entire series — and Hunter responded with abysmal performances. He shot 22 percent from the floor, including 20 percent from deep, and averaged a single point in 8.4 minutes. Making matters worse, Hunter couldn’t keep up with the Hawks on defense — he was late closing out on Kent Bazemore and caught behind screens in trying to cover Kyle Korver.

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Celtics should be eyeing these free agents 06.30.16 at 9:25 am ET
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Mar 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) shoots the ball against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Hawks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics reportedly will target Hawks forward Al Horford in free agency. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

Assuming the Celtics don’t land Kevin Durant, they’re going to need to shift their focus to signing other key free agents to improve their roster.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will target Al Horford when free agency officially begins July 1, and will be one of many teams, including the Lakers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Nets and Wizards, interested in the nine-year pro. (A Thursday report indicated the Thunder also plan to make a push for him.)

If the Celtics don’t land Durant or Horford, what kind of players do they need?

“We need good players,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last Friday as the team introduced five of its six draft picks in Waltham.

Brad Stevens was more specific.

“The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim,” the coach said.

There are a handful of players available who could help in scoring and rim protection, which could push the Celtics into contending with the champion Cavaliers.

However, the most talented players come with an expensive price tag. The Celtics will have to weigh their options and target the players who are worth the big bucks, while also looking to at second- and third-tier options who offer plenty of upside.

Here are four free agents the Celtics could sign this summer.

AL HORFORD
2015-16: 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Horford sits atop the list — his ability to stretch the floor on offense and defend opposing big men makes him a great fit in Boston. His leadership qualities will be beneficial for this young Celtics team — along with his experience. Horford, who turned 30 earlier this month, is also consistent — while his 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last season aren’t numbers that are going to amaze you, his dependability will make a big impact. He would give the Celtics their first consistent scoring big man since Kevin Garnett. And much like Garnett was for the Celtics, Horford is a great pick-and-roll guy who can knock down shots and score in the post. He is a max guy, but is one of the exceptional players of this free agency class who deserves a contract worth over $20 million annually. Placing an All-Star like Horford alongside Isaiah Thomas would bring this Celtics team to the second round of the playoffs, with potential to go beyond.  It would be a huge step toward contenting with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

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Read More: Al Horford, Evan Turner, Ian Mahinmi, Nicolas Batum
Why Celtics should trade for 76ers C Nerlens Noel 05.27.16 at 11:35 pm ET
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Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) takes a pass during shooting drills prior to playing Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel could soon be on the move from the 76ers. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

As Danny Ainge and co. head toward next month’s NBA draft, there’s a potential move available that the Celtics may want to explore.

In an interview with ESPN South Jersey 97.3, ESPN’s Chad Ford said he believes there’s a very good chance the 76ers will trade either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. 

“I think that there’s a very high likelihood, that whether it’s to move up in the draft or use them to grab a free agent in a sign and trade or just a trade, that you will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season,” Chad Ford said. “I think that they’ll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of these two players doesn’t necessarily work.”

With the No. 1 pick, the Sixers have two forwards to choose from in Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, leaving them with room to add a guard. According to Ford, the 76ers would jump at a chance to acquire the Celtics’ No. 3 pick, where they’d be able to add a rising star to their backcourt.

“If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow,” Chad Ford said. “I don’t know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that’s Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you’ve got a very, very bright future. I think that’s an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.”

Out of the two young studs, the Celtics should focus on pursing Noel. 

The Everett native is a young rim protector — the kind of big man the Celtics lack — who also can rebound and score around the rim. This past season Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Tied with the Warriors and Clippers, the Celtics finished fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. Adding a player like Noel into the fold would turn the C’s into a defensive juggernaut without having to break the bank in trying to sign a free agent big man like Hassan Whiteside or Bismack Biyombo. 

Compared to Okafor, the asking price for Noel isn’t as steep, but of course he still will cost the Celtics their No. 3 pick in this year’s draft. However, if the Celtics were to package their No. 3 pick along with second-round picks and a prospect like Terry Rozier or James Young, that could be enough for them to acquire Noel, whereas a proposed deal for Okafor most likely would have to include one of their rotation guys like Marcus Smart or Kelly Olynyk.

Out of the two, Okafor certainly is a better scorer, but in Brad Stevens’ system, Noel would flourish. In a fast-break offense he can run the floor, set the pick-and-roll, and create second-chance opportunities for the Celtics on the glass.

At age 22, Noel still has plenty of room to grow and has the potential to become one of the best defending big men in the league. Sure, a move like this wouldn’t turn the Celtics into an instant championship-contending team, but it’s a great place to start. 

Read More: Nerlens Noel,
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